Posted on
October 30, 2020

While suicide is a difficult topic to discuss, having knowledge and information about it are important to reduce the number of deaths by suicide in the United States and around the world each year. The World Health Organization reports that 800,000 people die by suicide each year worldwide while suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.

Suicide Attempt and Risk of Death

Statistics reveal that women are roughly three times more likely to attempt suicide, though men are two to four times more likely to die by suicide. Compared to their male counterparts, women show higher rates of suicidal thinking, non-fatal suicidal behavior, and suicide attempts. The differences in attempts and completed suicides in women have erroneously led many people to believe that suicide attempts in women are often a method of getting attention rather than a serious risk. This is far from true. It's important to note that among women, an attempted (but failed) suicide attempt is the greatest risk factor for suicide in the future, and all suicide attempts, whether in men or in women, need to be taken very seriously.

Suicide Methods

One of the most important reasons for the difference between suicide attempts and completed suicides between men and women is the method of suicide used. Men tend to choose violent (more lethal) suicide methods, such as firearms, hanging, and asphyxiation, whereas women are more likely to overdose on medications or drugs.

Suicide Methods in Men

  • Firearms
  • Hanging
  • Asphyxiation or suffocation
  • Jumping
  • Moving objects
  • Sharp objects
  • Vehicle exhaust gas

Suicide Methods in Women

  • Self-poisoning
  • Exsanguination (bleeding out from a cut such as a ‘slit’ wrist)
  • Drowning
  • Hanging
  • Firearms

Severity of Suicide Attempts

Even when the same method of suicide is used by men and women, attempts by men tend to be more 60% more serious and more severe. Men who attempt suicide and survive are more likely than women who attempt and survive suicide to require intensive care hospitalization. With regard to suicide by firearms, research shows that men are more likely to shoot themselves in the head (which is more likely to be fatal) than women. As noted above, both men and women who have a history of a prior suicide attempt are at high risk for future suicide. Over half of women who die by suicide have a previous attempt, whereas less than half of men who commit suicide have a prior attempt.

Suicide Warning Signs

Regardless of gender differences in suicide, everyone should be aware of the risk factors and warning sides of suicide. If you or a loved one have a history of depression, you may wish to create a suicide safety plan as well.

Self-Harming Behavior

While men are more likely to die as a result of a suicide attempt, women are more likely to engage in what is known as deliberate self-harm (DSH) or self-injury. DSH involves any sort of self-harming behavior, whether or not the intent is to commit suicide. Research suggests that people who use self-injury are not usually trying to kill themselves, though sometimes they do. While many people associate self-harm with a desire for attention, it is not and is often done in private. Examples of DSH include non-lethal drug overdoses and self-injury such as cutting.

Research has found some key risk factors for suicide in those who engage in self-harming behavior including:

  • Being male
  • Physical health problems
  • Previous episodes of self-harm
  • Suicidal intent

Depression and Suicide

Major depression occurs in half the people who commit suicide, both male and female. Women are twice as likely as men to carry a diagnosis of major depression, though, as noted, completed suicide occurs much more often in men than women. It's also known that women are more likely to seek treatment for depression than men.

LGBTQ Suicide Rates

Research show that suicidal thoughts and rates are much higher among those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and non-binary. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are three times more likely to think about suicide and seven times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth.

  • 40% of transgender adults have attempted suicide.
  • 50% of trans males reported a suicide attempt in the past year.
  • 42% of non-binary teens reported some type of self-harm in the previous year.
  • Less than 10% of cisgender males and 17% of cisgender females (those whose gender identity matches their biological sex) reported suicidal behaviors.

Rejection and bullying have both been implicated in the increased suicide rates among the LGBTQ community. Research has shown that young people who are rejected by their families due to their identity or sexual orientation are 8-9 times more likely to attempt suicide than those who have more family support and acceptance. 

Why There Are Gender Differences in Suicide

A number of different theories have been suggested to account for the gender differences in suicide, including differences in gender roles and societal expectations:

  • Gender stereotype of men being "tough" and "strong" does not allow for failure, perhaps causing men to select a more violent and lethal method of suicide.
  • Women, who are allowed the option to express vulnerability and to ask for help, may use suicide attempts as a means of expressing their need for help.
  • Women may be more reluctant to engage in a serious suicide attempt because the act is seen as violent and "masculine."
  • Women may be more likely to attempt suicide at an earlier point when faced with psychological distress or illness than men, less out of an intent to die and more out of an attempt to communicate distress.
  • Women may be more likely to take others into consideration, and looking at suicide in the context of relationships may give women less incentive to want to die.
  • Women may feel freer to change their minds following a decision to attempt suicide.

Experts suggest that gender might also influence what methods a person is familiar with or has ready access to use. For example, men are generally more likely than women to be familiar with firearms and use them in their daily lives, and thus they might choose this method more often.